The Consolidation of Latin America, 1830-1920
Chapter Summary. Four major world areas escaped the imperialist scramble: Russia, the Middle East,
East Asia, and Latin America. Most Latin American nations gained independence from colonial control
early in the 19th century. The political culture of its leaders had been shaped by the Enlightenment, but
they faced problems growing from their own history. Their colonial heritage did not include participatory
government; highly centralized states had created both patterns of dependence and resentment. Class and
regional interests divided nations; wealth was unevenly distributed. The rise of European industrial
capitalism placed Latin America nations in a dependent economic position.
From Colonies to Nations. By the late 18th century Creole elites were questioning the necessity of
remaining colonial subjects. The mass of the population resented government policies. Early attempts at
revolution failed because the elites feared to unloose the power of those under them.
Causes of Political Change. Four external events had a major impact on Latin American political thought.
The American Revolution provided a model for colonial rebellion. The French Revolution offered
revolutionary ideology, but it was rejected by elites as too radical politically and socially. The slave
rebellion in the French island of St. Domingue led by Toussaint L'Overture in 1791 ended in 1804 with the
independent republic of Haiti. The success of the slaves frightened colonial elites and made them even
more cautious about social change. The final and precipitating factor was the confused political situation in
Spain and Portugal caused by French invasion and occupation. In Spain the French deposed the king in
favor of Napoleon's brother, but then had to face prolonged civil war. Latin American Creoles declared
loyalty to the Spanish ruler, but began to rule the colonies themselves.
Spanish-American Independence Struggles. In Mexico a Creole conspiracy caused Miguel de Hidalgo
to appeal in 1810 to Indians and mestizos for support. After early victories Hidalgo lost Creole support and
was executed. The revolution continued and conservative Creoles under Augustín Iturbide won
independence. The new state, a monarchy based upon Creole dominance, collapsed in 1824. Mexico
became a republic and Central America, until then part of the empire, divided into independent nations. In
northern South America an independence movement led by a Creole officer, Simon Bolívar, appeared in
Caracas in 1810. Between 1817 and 1822 he won victories in Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. The
three countries were united as Gran Columbia until political differences in 1830 caused separation. In
southern South America rebellion began in Rio de la Plata under the leadership of José de San Martín.
Buenos Aires opted for autonomy in 1810. In 1816 the independence of the United Republic of Rio de la
Plata was proclaimed. Paraguay separated from it in 1813. The remaining Spanish territories fell to San
Martín's forces; by 1825 all of Spanish America had won political independence. All were republics with
Brazilian Independence. By the end of the 18th century Brazil was Portugal’s most important colonial
possession. The presence of a large slave population tempered the elite’s thoughts of independence. The
French invasion of Portugal in 1807 led the royal family and many of the nobility to flee to Brazil. Rio de
Janeiro became the real capital of the Portuguese empire. Brazil's ports were opened to world commerce
because of pressure from Britain, Portugal's powerful war time ally. King João VI remained in Brazil until
1820. The presence of the court made Rio de Janeiro into a great capital city. When João VI returned to
Portugal to deal with a liberal revolution he left his son Pedro as regent. When it became clear that Brazil
was to return to colonial status, Pedro declared its independence in 1822 and became the constitutional
emperor, Pedro I. Independent Brazil maintained the existing social order based on slavery.
New Nations Confront Old and New Problems. Many of the leaders of Latin American independence
shared Enlightenment political and economic ideals. There was less agreement about the role of the
Catholic church as the exclusive state religion. Some leaders had egalitarian beliefs. Slavery was
abolished in all the former Spanish colonies by 1854. Better treatment of Indians and mestizos was
blocked by the elite's fears of losing tax revenue and control. Property and literacy qualifications limited
voting; women remained subordinate to men.
Political Fragmentation. Early efforts for political unity quickly failed because of regional rivalries and
internal frictions. The great size of the Spanish colonial world and its poor transportation systems gave the
eighteen new nations a local focus. The mass of their peoples were outside of the political process.
Caudillos, Politics, and the Church. The new nations suffered from the warfare ending in independence.
Armies loyal to their leaders led to the rise of caudillos, men who controlled local areas. They intervened
in national politics to make and unmake governments. At times the caudillos defended the interests of
regional elites, or of Indians and peasants. In general they disregarded representative forms and the rule of
law. There were many differences among leaders about the forms of republican government. Centralists
wanted strong governments with broad powers while federalists favored awarding authority to regional
governments. Liberals, influenced by the French and United States models, stressed individual rights,
opposed the corporate structure of colonial society, and favored a federalist government. Conservatives
wanted a centralized state and wished to maintain a society where corporate groups ruled social action.
The role of the church became a critical political. Liberals sought to limit its civil role, but met strong
opposition from conservatives and the Papacy. The political parties that formed were led by landowners
and the urban middle class; they argued about liberal or conservative ideas, but shared basic class loyalties.
The rest of the population was not concerned with political ideology. The result was enduring political
instability, with rapid turnovers of rulers and constitutions. Only a few nations had general stability: Chile
after reforms of its system in 1833 and the Brazilian monarchy. For most of Latin America the basic
questions of government and society remained unresolved.
Latin-American Economies and World Markets, 1820-1870. After the defeat of Napoleon any plans for
ending Latin American independence were thwarted by the opposition of Britain and the United States.
The price for British support was freedom of trade. Britain replaced Spain as a dominant economic force in
a type of neocolonial commercial system. It became a major consumer of Latin American products and
sold its manufactured goods to the new nations. The free entry and export of goods benefited port cities
and landowners, but it damaged regional industries producing for internal markets. The resulting
dependency on foreign markets reinforced the old order which made land the basis of wealth and prestige.
Mid-Century Stagnation. The Latin American economy was stagnant between 1820 and 1850. The
mining sector had suffered from the independence wars, transportation and port facilities remained
underdeveloped, and investment capital was lacking. The situation changed after 1850 when European
market expansion created demand for local products. The export of coffee, hides, beef, minerals, grains,
and guano brought revenues to governments, urban growth, and transportation improvements. Liberal
reformers during the 1820s and 1830s attempted to break colonial patterns and follow European trends.
Latin American societies were not ready for many of the reforms; the conservative weight of the church,
landowners, and army remained potent. They returned to power by the 1840s and halted or hindered
reform. An alliance between them and peasantry emerged to oppose change.
Economic Resurgence and Liberal Politics. Liberals returned to power during the last quarter of the 19th
century. They based their policies on the positivism of Auguste Comte, stressing a scientific approach to
social problems. The shift was caused by changes in the nature of the Industrial Revolution and the age of
imperialism. Latin American economies expanded rapidly after 1850 and the population doubled. There
were new demands for Latin American products and foreign entrepreneurs and bankers joined liberals,
landowners, and merchants to tie Latin America to the capitalist expansion of the Western economy. The
new political leaders were inspired by the example of Western Europe and the United States, but their
distrust of their mass populations prevented the success of many efforts. The economic growth often
occurred at the expense of the peasantry; landowners and governments expropriated land and developed
forms of tenancy, peonage, and disguised servitude.
Mexico: Instability and Foreign Intervention. The 1824 Mexican constitution was a federalist document
that established a republic and guaranteed basic civil rights. But it did not address the serious issues of
inequitable distribution of land, the status of Indians, the problems of education, or the poverty of most of
the population. Conservative centralists opposed liberal federalists; foreign commercial agents added
additional complications. Liberals during the early 1830s tried sweeping reforms, but they fell before a
conservative reaction led by Antonio López de Santa Ana. He was a typical caudillo and the defects of the
regime drew foreign intervention by Spain and France. War with the United States ended in Mexican
defeat and the loss of about one-half of its territory. The war left a bitter distrust of the United States and
caused a serious loss of Mexican economic potential. Politicians were stimulated to confront their nation's
internal problems which had contributed to defeat. Indian lawyer Benito Juárez led a liberal revolt in 1854
and inaugurated a new constitution in 1857. Military and church privileges were curtailed and church and
Indian communal lands were sold to individuals. Speculators, however, bought the land and left peasants
and Indians poorer than previously. Conservative reaction led to civil war and the summoning of French
assistance. The French placed Maximilian von Habsburg on the throne, but Juárez refused to accept the
foreign ruler. When the French withdrew in 1867 Maximilian was captured and executed. Juárez regained
office to lead an autocratic regime until his death in 1872. By 1880 Mexico was about to enter a period of
strong central government and political stability.
Argentina: The Port and the Nation. The economy of Argentina was divided between the commercial
port of Buenos Aires and pampas of the surrounding territories. The United Provinces of the Rio de la
Plata declared independence in 1816, but did not long stay together. Liberal efforts to create a strong
central government provoked a federalist reaction which gained power in 1831 under Juan Manuel de
Rosas. A weak central government and local autonomy followed that favored the merchants of Buenos
Aires and the surrounding ranchers. Campaigns against Indians opened new lands in the south. Rosas
ruled in a populist, authoritarian manner and exiled the opponents. Liberals and regional caudillos joined
to overthrow Rosas in 1852. After a confused decade of political turmoil opponents compromised to create
a unified republic. Between 1862 and 1890 Domingo F. Sarmiento and other able leaders initiated wide
political and economic reforms. Political stability brought foreign investment; a great boost in exports
brought prosperity. The population tripled as many European immigrants came to take advantage of the
good times. Increased revenues allowed infrastructure development. National unity and pride grew after a
successful war against Paraguay and the defeat of the southern Indians.
The Brazilian Empire. Many problems were present behind Brazil's facade of 19th-century political
stability. Pedro I issued a liberal constitution in 1824 but still acted as an autocrat. He was forced to
abdicate in 1831; regents then ran the country in the name of his young son Pedro II - he came to power in
1840 - in what really was an experiment in republican government. Internal disputes between liberals and
conservatives were complicated by arguments for and against the monarchy. Provinces opposed
centralized rule and many unsuccessful regional revolts ensued. The development of coffee as an export
crop brought economic resurgence. There was an intensification of slavery until 1850. Prosperity
continued after 1850 along with political tranquillity. The communication and transport systems improved;
foreign investment increased. New political currents included the growth of urban and middle class groups
less tied to landholding and slavery, and the arrival of thousands of European immigrants who reduced
dependence on slaves. The abolitionist movement gained strength, and slaves increased their resistance to
their status. Slavery was abolished in 1888. Support for the monarchy waned. A long war against
Paraguay brought the military into politics, and state quarrels with the church drew them into the
opposition. Planters turned away from slavery to positivist ideas. The Republican Party, formed in 1871,
won wide support and a coup replaced the monarchy by a republic in 1889. Social and political problems
caused by modernization remained unresolved.
Societies in Search of Themselves. Tension remained in cultural life between European and American
influences, and between elite and folk ways. Social change for the masses and for women came slowly.
Cultural Expression after Independence. Independence opened up Latin America to direct influence
from other European nations. The elite followed Europe's examples in intellectual and artistic life. In the
1830s romanticism became important and turned interest to Indians and local customs. By the 1870s the
focus changed; a new realism came to the arts and literature along with the ideas of positivism. Mass
culture was not affected by elite trends; traditional forms flourished but were ignored by most of the elite.
Old Patterns of Gender, Class, and Race. Women, despite participation in the revolutions, gained little
ground during the 19th century. They continued as wives and mothers under the authority of males; they
could not vote or hold office. Lower class women had more economic and personal freedom, but otherwise
shared in subordination. Public education did become more open to women to prepare them for more
enlightened roles in the home. New occupational opportunities opened for women in teaching;. Educated
women, by the end of the century, actively demanded increased rights. Most of the new nations legally
ended the society of castes where status depended upon color and ethnicity. In reality, very little changed
for Indians and former slaves. The expansion of the export economy in many ways intensified old
patterns. Personal liberties were sacrificed to economic growth. Control of land, politics, and the economy
was dominated by a small, white, Creole elite. Latin America entered the 1880s as a predominantly
agrarian group of nations with rigid social structures, and dependent on the world market.
In Depth: Explaining Underdevelopment. Latin America, because of its early winning of independence
and entry into the world economy, provides a useful example for study of the problems faced by
underdeveloped nations. Their experience grew from the influences of their Hispanic cultural heritage.
When independence came, the European models of economy, law, and government adopted failed to bring
either prosperity or social harmony. In the search for alternative policies some condemned the Hispanic
legacy; others turned to Marxism. Latin Americans often compared their experiences with those of the
United States. Answers for the questions increasingly were sought in analyses of a world economic and
political system. They turned to modernization theory, a following of the path taken in western Europe.
Refinements of the theories led to an acceptance of dependency theory that envisaged development and
underdevelopment as part of the same process. The process of theorizing continues.
The Great Boom, 1880-1920. The increasing demand in industrializing Europe stimulated Latin
American economic growth. Liberal ideology - individual freedom, open markets, limited government
intervention in the economy - prepared the way for expansion. The ideology was adopted by the small
urban middle class, landholders, miners, and export merchants. These groups forged political alliances to
direct governments in their favor at the expense of the peasants and working class. Export products fueled
the expansion and provided resources for imports of foreign manufactures and local development projects.
It was always a risky business since market prices were dependent on outside conditions. The developing
commerce drew the interest of foreign investors. Germany and the United States joined Britain as major
participants. The capital brought in was useful, but it placed key industries under foreign control, and it
influenced the internal and external policies of governments.
Mexico and Argentina: Examples of Economic Transformation. In Mexico in 1876 Porfirio Díaz was
elected president; he dominated politics for 35 years. Díaz imposed a strong central government and
utilized foreign capital for internal infrastructure development and industrialization. His administration
subverted liberal democratic principles to preserve power and continue modernization. Opposition was
suppressed and growth occurred at the expense of the peasantry and working class. When strikes and
unrest increased a national police force and the army kept order. Regional political bosses rigged elections
in support of the regime. By 1910 a middle class reform movement emerged and sought electoral reform.
Other opposition groups joined it and a bloody ten-year civil war followed. In Argentina another path of
economic expansion was followed. Buenos Aires and the rest of the nation worked together after 1880 to
bring expansion and stability. Technological change - especially refrigerated ships for exporting meat -
helped the process; labor came from a flood of immigrants. By 1914 one-third of the population was
foreign-born. They fused their various European identities into a distinct culture. Workers wanted political
expression and in the 1890s a socialist party formed. Strikes and government repression marked the decade
after 1910. The Argentinean oligarchy attempted some reforms. A party representing the emerging middle
class, the Radical Party, took shape. Aided by the reforms of an electoral law of 1912 it came to power in
1916. When it met labor unrest the party was as repressive as its predecessors. Similar patterns occurred in
the economic and political life of the rest of Latin America. Ruling oligarchies of the traditional
aristocracies allied with the middle classes faced rising labor and rural unrest and rebellion.
Uncle Sam Goes South. American political and economic interest in Latin America grew after the Civil
War. The Spanish-American War of 1898 brought the United States directly into Latin American affairs.
American investment in Cuba predated the war, and following it the door was open for direct involvement
in the Caribbean. Cuba became an American economic dependent and Puerto Rico was annexed. When
Colombia was reluctant to meet American proposals for building the Panama Canal, the United States
backed a revolution in Panama and gained exclusive rights over the canal. Latin Americans as a
consequence became very suspicious of the expansionist United States.
Conclusion: New Nations, Old Problems. Despite all of the economic, social, and political changes
occurring in Latin America after independence its countries remained remarkably unchanged. Revolutions
and reforms changed little. The elite held on to control of economic resources; the urban sector was weak
and often accommodated the elite. Most of the population worked the land without hope of improvement.
KEY TERMS CHAPTER 25
Toussaint L'Overture: leader of the slave rebellion on the French island of St. Domingue in 1791; led to
the creation of the independent republic of Haiti in 1804.
mask of Ferdinand: term given to the movements in Latin America allegedly loyal to the deposed
Bourbon king of Spain; they actually were Creole movements for independence.
Miguel de Hidalgo: Mexican priest who established an independence movement among Indians and
mestizos in 1810; after early victories he was captured and executed.
Augustín Iturbide: conservative Creole officer in the Mexican army who joined the independence
movement; made emperor in 1821.
Simon Bolívar: Creole military officer in northern South America; won victories in Venezuela, Colombia,
and Ecuador between 1817 and 1822 that led to the independent state of Gran Colombia.
Gran Colombia: existed as an independent state until 1830 when Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador
became separate independent nations.
José de San Martín: leader of movements in Rio de la Plata that led to the independence of the United
Provinces of the Rio de la Plata by 1816; later led independence movements in Chile and Peru.
João VI: Portuguese monarch who fled the French to establish his court in Brazil from 1808 to 1820; Rio
de Janeiro became the real capital of the Portuguese empire.
Pedro I: son and successor of João VI in Brazil; aided in the declaration of Brazilian independence in 1822
and became constitutional emperor
José Rodríguez de Francia: ruler of independent Paraguay as dictator until 1840.
Andrés Santa Cruz: mestizo general who established a union between independent Peru and Bolivia
between 1829 and 1839.
caudillos: leaders in independent Latin America who dominated local areas by force in defiance of national
policies; sometimes seized the national government.
centralists: Latin American politicians who favored strong, centralized national governments with broad
powers; often supported by conservative politicians.
federalists: Latin American politicians who favored regional governments rather than centralized
administrations; often supported by liberal politicians.
Monroe Doctrine: United States declaration of 1823 that any attempt by a European country to colonize
the Americas would be considered an unfriendly act.
guano: bird droppings utilized as fertilizer; a major Peruvian export between 1850 and 1880.
positivism: a philosophy based on the ideas of Auguste Compte; stressed observation and scientific
approaches to the problems of society.
Antonio López de Santa Ana: Mexican general who seized power after the collapse of the Mexican
republic in 1835.
Manifest Destiny: belief in the United States that it was destined to rule from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1848): ratified Mexican by the United States; Mexico lost one-half of
Benito Juárez: Indian lawyer and politician who led a liberal revolution against Santa Ana; defeated by the
French who made Maximilian emperor; returned to power from 1867 to 1872.
La Reforma: name of Juárez's liberal revolution.
Maximilian von Habsburg: Austrian archduke proclaimed Emperor of Mexico as a result of French
intervention in 1862; after the French withdrawal he executed in 1867.
gauchos: mounted rural workers in the Rio de la Plata region.
Juan Manuel de Rosas: federalist leader in Buenos Aires; took power in 1831; commanded loyalty of
gauchos; restored local autonomy.
Argentine Republic: replaced state of Buenos Aires in 1862 as a result of a compromise between
centralists and federalists.
Domingo F. Sarmiento: liberal politician and president of the Argentine Republic; author of Facundo, a
critique of caudillo politics; increased international trade and launched reforms in education and
fazendas: coffee estates that spread into the Brazilian interior between 1840 and 1860; caused
intensification of slavery.
modernization theory: the belief that the more industrialized, urban, and modern a society became, the
more social change and improvement were possible as traditional patterns and attitudes were abandoned or
dependency theory: the belief that development and underdevelopment were not stages but were part of
the same process; that development and growth of areas like western Europe were achieved at the expense
of underdevelopment of dependent regions like Latin America.
Porfirio Díaz: one of Juárez's generals; elected president of Mexico in 1876 and dominated politics for 35
cientificos: advisors to Díaz's government who were influenced strongly by Positivist ideas.
Spanish American War: fought between Spain and the United States beginning in 1898; resulted in
annexation of Puerto Rico and the Philippines; permitted American intervention in the Caribbean.
Panama Canal: the United States supported an independence movement in Panama, then part of
Colombia, in return for the exclusive rights for a canal across the Panama isthmus.